Google's Project Ara: Modular phones will be held together with electro-permanent magnets

Sneak peek from Google shows three different sized devices to cater to smartphone and phablet users - as well as those who want the bare minimum

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The Independent Tech

The Phonebloks concept has had a weird ride so far.

The original video outlining the concept of a ‘modular phone’ that lets users swap out hardware to upgrade their handset on the fly went viral last year, leading to Motorola (who had then been recently bought by Google) announcing plans to work with the team to develop the platform.

However, when Google announced that they would be selling Motorola to Chinese giant Lenovo for $2.9 billion it looked like the ambitious concept would be lost in the fine print. Thankfully, this is not the case, and a recent video from Google HQ shows how Phonebloks - working under the team name of Project Ara – are getting on.

The video gives some great insight into how Google are planning to lay out the ‘endoskeletons’ for these handsets. These will be the frames that support the different hardware components (the memory, the camera, the RAM, etc) and it now looks like these will come in three sizes.

A phablet-sized frame comes with nine, chunky components; a smartphone-sized model supports eight; and a mini-device (looking nearer in size to an iPod Nano) has space for six blocks.

However, it should be mentioned that not all these blocks are equal in size. The phablet-ready components are mostly 4x4 grids (compared to the 1x2 slots available in the smallest frame)  which will probably equate to more memory or a meatier processor.

The video also shows that each of the hardware components will be held in place by electro-permanent magnets – meaning that users will be able to lock or unlock them from the endoskeleton using an app on the phone – and that Google is looking towards 3D printing techniques to ensure that the devices are fully customizable.

If you’re hungry for more news on Project Ara then you’re in luck: the first developers conference for Ara will be held on April 15 and 16 – we’ll be back with more updates then.